When I was little, I took a lot of swimming lessons. My dad was a great swimmer and I loved the water. Still, like lots of kids, I lacked confidence. I would have serious doubts about my abilities to do things.
So when I had to swim from the shallow end to the lifeguard stand as the “graduation” from Intermediate classes, I was nervous. My dad was a football coach, so he understood about breaking it into smaller steps and practice, practice, practice. Every night, we’d go to the pool. He’d have me swim along near the edge while he’d walk along beside me, cigarette lodged in the side of his mouth. It was the 60’s and everyone smoked – everywhere!
At first, he’d offer encouragement, “You can do it Susie!” “Keep going!” “Push!” …things like that. But then he started to notice that when he did offer his cheers from the side, I’d grab the side of the pool and say, “What?” I was simply taking the opportunity to rest. It wasn’t long before he stopped trying to say things to me while I swam.
Still, I could see his murky outline on deck as I turned to catch a breath. I’d stop and hold the side, “Did you say something?”.
“No! Keep swimming.” He had figured me out. I was probably 6 or 7 and, truth be told, he probably figured it out long before I realized he was onto me!
Still, I would use this technique to try to interrupt my swimming workout, time and time again. He would continue to walk with me, shaking his head to indicate he was NOT speaking to me at this point. His disappointment was palpable, even though unspoken. I really WAS trying to “cheat” on the swim.
Years passed and he and I continued to use that phrase as a metaphor. If I was taking the easy road, not challenging myself, he’d say, “Are you holding onto the side of the pool again?” He and I knew exactly what that meant. He spent many a day telling me how I could do anything I put my mind to, and how some things are worth working for. I was a true Daddy’s Girl. But he knew I had a tendency to go the easy way, or see if someone or something could rescue me from the obstacle I was facing. Less challenging might feel good at the moment, but overall, it’s so unsatisfying. Stagnating, even. And worse, it chips away at me. It only exacerbates any kind of low confidence moments I’m having. It’s a negative cheerleader. It’s the one saying, “Give up. It’s too hard.” “You can’t do it anyway. Stop now.” “How embarrassing.”
I don’t know how I acquired it, but for most of my teen years I had a little decoupage plaque that hung on my wall. It was a picture of a setting sun with a small sailboat going out. It said,
” A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.”
My dad has been dead for over 20 years, and I still have all these mental connections to water. When you’re swimming and you turn your face to get a breath, if your eyes are open, you can sort of see through the pool water. I can still see his blurry image as he walked along the side of the pool with me as if it were yesterday. Still I can hear his voice asking, “SusieQ, are you holding on to the side of the pool?”
Every day brings some sort of challenge, small or large. And every night I can look back and see how I did with it. I try hard to do my best. Well, sometimes I try hard. Sometimes I procrastinate. And it’s really just another way of holding onto the side of the pool, I guess.